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Improving health and hygiene for 10,000 children in Timor-Leste


How Unilever Hero Nicky Ong ensured new programmes made a powerful impact

Improving health and hygiene for 10,000 children in Timor-Leste

Every year, we recognise pioneering individuals within the company who have brought our values to life and truly embody what it means to be part of Unilever. Our 2018 Heroes with Impact have gone above and beyond their day-to-day jobs. Their stories paint a picture of passion, purpose and drive.

When Singapore-based Business Development Manager Nicky Ong learnt that 85% of the population in Timor-Leste, a South-East Asian country that came into being in 2002, had never visited a dentist and that one in five children died from diseases linked to poor hand-hygiene, he vowed to make a difference.

“This is quite a new country where there is not much education in terms of hygiene,” says Nicky. “That’s why it’s important for both Pepsodent and Lifebuoy to come into the picture.” In partnership with the FDI World Dental Association, Unilever has run its Brush Day & Night programmes in over 40 countries, reaching 136 million people[a]. And with our soap brand Lifebuoy, we have reached over 426 million people across Asia, Africa and Latin America with our hygiene and handwashing programmes.

Nicky determined to take the Pepsodent and Lifebuoy programmes into schools in Timor-Leste. He initiated a partnership with the Ministry of Health to introduce both World Oral Health Day and Global Handwashing Day programmes into Timor-Leste for the first time.

Learning by having fun

“We started this project for schools,” he explains. “We incorporated some songs into teaching children the habit of brushing their teeth on a daily basis. Kids learnt from having fun.” Seeing the children learn how to improve their hygiene gave him “an amazing feeling”, he says – as if they were all part of his family.

Thanks to the partnership with the Ministry of Health, the brands received extensive media support from the Timor-Leste government. They also gained the support of the nation’s First Lady, Cidália Lopes Nobre Mouzinho Guterres, who officiated on Global Handwashing Day.

To date, the social programmes of the two brands have reached 10,000 schoolchildren in the country. Nicky’s work has significantly increased awareness and education on health and hygiene in hard-to-reach rural areas, and created impressive sales growth. Pepsodent and Lifebuoy are now the leading brands in the country in their sectors.

The judging panel commended the strong brand impact in a challenging environment, the business impact linked to our sustainability ambitions and the strong social impact. Nicky and his distribution team feel that “work is not just about selling, it is about improving lives too”.

Watch this short video to hear more from Nicky


The partnership between Unilever and FDI ended in December 2023

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